Turning a Unisex T-Shirt Into a Women’s Babydoll

There was a time when it wasn’t possible to buy a woman’s version of *any* geek T-shirt. We lady geeks have many more options these days but some shirts I crave are still only available in “unisex” sizes – i.e., only look flattering if you are shaped square-ish through the midsection.

Over the years, I’ve perfected a pretty simple technique to give a rectangle shaped beefy T  a more flattering feminine silhouette. I’ve certainly had many T-shirt freebies from various software companies on which to practice. 🙂 If you would like simple instructions to turn a unisex shirt into a ladies’ babydoll, you’ve come to the right place!

How to turn a unisex T-shirt into a ladies’ babydoll shirt:

1. First thing you’ll need is a babydoll shirt that fits well to use as your guide. Don’t worry, your favorite T will remain intact and unharmed for the duration of the process.

You’ll want to select a guide shirt in a similar fabric blend as the shirt you want to alter. If your favorite babydoll fits because it has some poly content allowing it to stretch in all the right places, but you use it as a guide for a 100% cotton T, you can easily cut your shirt too small.

Left shirt = well-fitting babydoll; Right shirt = men's shirt to be altered

The white Stormtrooper shirt on the right is only available in mens or unisex sizes but the purple logo shirt on the left is a babydoll that fits me well. Because I know you will ask, the Stormtrooper “Super Trooper” T-shirt is from ThinkGeek (mine is unisex size S) and the Star Wars logo outline burnout T-shirt is from Her Universe (mine is size L).

Despite one being a small and the other a large, these two shirts are similar enough in size that I can use the logo shirt as a guide to altering the stormtrooper shirt. The fabric contents are different (100% cotton for the stormtrooper and 50/50% cotton/poly blend for the logo shirt) but the logo shirt is loose enough on me that I’m sure the fit doesn’t depend on stretchability.

2. Pre-wash/pre-shrink your shirt. Both of my shirts have been washed and dried a few times so they are pretty much the size they will remain.

3. Get out that iron! Turn your shirts inside out (you’ll be working from the “wrong” side of the shirt the whole time) and gently press your shirt completely flat. Most T-shirt designs can not be ironed, so you need to carefully avoid ironing the backside of your design even though you’re ironing the inside of your shirt. Make sure to line up all edge seams and center your shirt design. While babydoll shirts have side seams, unisex shirts do not so I recommend using a ruler to make sure your design is centered and an equal distance from both sides. Press a hard crease on each side of your unisex shirt.

4. Lay your pressed guide shirt on top of the shirt to be altered.

guide shirt laid on top of the shirt to be altered

Center the guide shirt on the shirt to be altered, making sure to line up the armpits of the two shirts. If your hems line up, lucky you! If one hem is longer than the other, no worries. Simply make sure the two bottom hems lay parallel. Notice there isn’t a huge difference in the shape of the two shirts. We’re not going for a fitted hourglass shape here, just a gentle curve to remove extra material at the waistline. Remember, it’s always possible to remove more material later so go conservative at first.

5. Using fabric chalk of a color contrasting your shirt to be altered, carefully trace the shape of the babydoll onto your unisex shirt. Because my shirt is white and so is all my tailors chalk, I used a pencil.

Where the shirts were the same size, I gradually blended the line into the side of the shirt.

6. Now for the sewing portion of the process! If this is your first shirt alteration, I recommend putting in a temporary seam using an easily removable long stitch length so you can check your alteration before you make it permanent. Everything look good? Excellent.

6. A. If you have a serger/overlock sewing machine simply start at the armpit and sew along your guide line. The line you drew will be the outside or cut edge of your shirt. In the places where the two shirts are even, you’ll sew just on the very edge (or very slightly off the edge) of the shirt, only catching a few threads worth of fabric.

6. B. If you have a traditional sewing machine, you’ll sew a seam about 1/4 inch *just inside* the line you drew. Then after checking again for fit, remove the extra material from the shirt by cutting along the line. Finally, change the setting on your machine to a zig zag stitch and sew over the cut edge to prevent unraveling.

Here is the inside view of the finished seam of your new babydoll! You can see on the top and the bottom of the seam where I only caught the minimum fabric necessary to make a complete seam.

Some pro tips:

Make sure the double seam on your shirt’s hem lines up front to back. If the edge of your  unisex shirt lines up with the edge of the baby doll at any point on the side, you’ll want to catch just the edge of the shirt in your seam. If you’ve ever placed a dart in a garment then you’ll be familiar with gently curving your seam so that eventually your seam is being made with only one stitch length of fabric remaining between your seam and the edge of the garment.

The seam is made so close to the edge of the shirt that the transition to the hem is made without puckering.

Have the opposite problem?

If you possess more pure geek awesomeness than a mere XL shirt has room to love then here is guide to making your geek shirt larger in the belly area. These instructions will work to enlarge a shirt to accommodate a pregnancy or a healthy appetite.

Love, The Nerdista


This entry was posted in Cosplay, Costuming, & CausePlay, From the Laboratory, General Geeky Nerdiness, Sci-Fi, Star Wars and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Turning a Unisex T-Shirt Into a Women’s Babydoll

  1. Jen W. says:

    LOVE this post! I’ve got a couple of shirts that I’ve been meaning to fix so they fit better, but wasn’t sure how to do so. This should help a ton. Do you have any advice for dealing with collars that are too tight? Crew necks aren’t my friend and I’d love a shred-free way of fixing the collars of those shirts…

    • The Nerdista says:

      You could try putting a simple notch into the collar. Look at this picture for inspiration.


      You can make the notch short like in this example or a few inches long. Just cut straight down the middle of the collar in the front, perpendicular to the neckline, the straight line you cut will open up in a hairpin U shape on its own.

      The raw edge can be turned under and sewn, finished with double folded hem tape, or left as is. You can use Fray-Check to keep the cut edge from unraveling if you leave it as-is, but I’ve never had that problem with a plain T.

      Hope this helps!

  2. Alyssa says:

    Love this tutorial!

    On men’s shirts, one thing I notice is that the sleeves are always much longer than women’s sleeves. Have you ever done sleeve alterations? If you know of any or plan on trying one, could you help me out with that?

    Otherwise, thanks for the step-by-step/photo blog. You’ve made it so easy to emulate. Not to mention, I like this a lot better than cutting all of my shirts into shreds and forming a makeshift tank top. They’re cute, but not practical all year. Plus, I don’t want to ruin the stuff I really love! Thanks for sharing!

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